Mr Major's Questions and Answers with Soviet Media - 27th February 1991
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1991 - Mr Major’s Statement in Bermuda

Below is the text of Mr Major’s statement made at the Cabinet Office in Bermuda on Saturday 16th March 1991.


Good Morning, it is very nice to see you all, I am not sure when last we had an occasion like this but it is extremely agreeable to see you here. I think the best thing to do, as there is only a limited amount of time, is for me simply to answer any questions you have and then we can use the time on what concerns you rather than what concerns me which seems to me the way round it might most usefully be.

QUESTION (Pravda):

Mr Prime Minister, we would like to express our appreciation for the time that you have found in your very busy schedule. We would all like to wish you a very successful and fruitful trip to the Soviet Union. We will all identify ourselves. I am Alexander Luti, Pravda correspondent in London, and my question is what are your feelings and your mood on the eve of this coming trip?


Thank you very much indeed for your kind words, I am grateful for those. It is a very crowded period but I am very much looking forward to the trip to the Soviet Union, we have been contemplating it for some time and I have been very keen to ensure that it actually stayed in the diary. I have not yet met Mr Gorbachev. We did have a lengthy telephone conversation on Saturday morning, perhaps the first occasion I think in this modern world diplomacy where such contact was made for the first time by telephone. But it was a very easy discussion although on a difficult topic of the Gulf and I do not think there will be any difficulty in continuing the very good relationship that existed between Mr Gorbachev and Mrs Thatcher, and there was a very good personal relationship there, and I am very keen to see that continue.

If I say I do not see the trip to Moscow as a special event, you may think I am being offensive. I mean it in the sense it is not going to be special in that I hope it is not going to be unique, I hope we are going to have a continuing degree of contact both over there and back here, I hope we will see Mr Gorbachev back here before very long. The change there has been in Anglo/Soviet relations over the past few years has been remarkable, truly remarkable, and very few people I think would have forecast it. Well that is a great credit to Mr Gorbachev and to Mrs Thatcher I think and also to the direction of policy that one has seen over much of the last 5 years in the Soviet Union. I hope those policies of perestroika will continue and I hope we will continue to build on the relationship that has been established.

So I am looking forward to it, to provide a direct and brief answer to your question, I am looking forward to it as the first of what I hope will be a series of fruitful meetings.

QUESTION (Novosti Press):

Could you elaborate a little bit more on the legacy which you got from your predecessor, what values would you like to continue to develop in British/Soviet relations from the point of your personal relationship and the depths of the dialogue?


I will tell you what strikes me most about the change in relationship that was built up, and that was that Mr Gorbachev and Mrs Thatcher knew one another. They did not always agree, they knew the areas where they were going to disagree but they knew one another and they understood one another and they understood why they took different views on different subjects. And I think there were two reasons for that: one, they spoke frankly to one another, they did not simply in diplomatic terms say what it was diplomatic to say, they were blunt and frank with one another, and I think that was wise and I will continue that and I am sure Mr Gorbachev will; and secondly, the degree of contact they had meant that they really knew one another as individuals. It is difficult to paint people in an undesirable way if you know them well and they did know one another well and that is why I think direct, personal, continuing contact is so important. So those are the two things I will want to cherish and build on - the frankness of exchanges that existed, even an uncomfortable subjects, and the continuing personal contact so that it was possible to maximise that frankness.

So I think those are the two things that have changed dramatically that I would wish to build upon.

QUESTION (Alex Lityov, Labour Tribune):

After 1985, with the beginning of perestroika in our country, it did have a lot of profound and sometimes dramatic changes in the political, social and economic life in our country. How do you personally assess the importance of the achievements of perestroika?


I think it is remarkable what has been achieved in such a short time. The political changes in particular have been an astonishing amount of liberation and the whole world has looked at that with a considerable degree of pleasure and we want to see it sustained and built upon. where I think there is still a long way to go is in the economic changes. The will to make the economic changes is clearly there but economic changes are painful to make, they take a long time to make, and you actually have to take decisions that are very unpopular and sustain them for a long period before you get the economic change from a command economy to a free market economy in which price and consumer demand and efficiency actually rule. So I think to be frank that there has been greater progress in terms of the political changes than there have yet been on the economic changes and it will require the political virility that has been unleashed in order to make sure that those economic changes continue. But you will also need some political stability to make sure that those economic changes are able to be put in place and there is a great deal to be done I think on that front.


If you permit, one follow-up question. One of the crucial issues we are now facing in our country is the future of the Union. As you probably know, this coming 17th March the Soviet people will have to decide whether the Soviet Union will be preserved as just an integrated state consisting of the democratic and the democratically governed Republics. How do you personally perceive the future of the Union, will you be satisfied if one day the Soviet Union will cease to exist as an entity, as an integrated state?


You made the point yourself that you have the referendum immediately in front of you in which the citizens of the Soviet Union will express their own views. That is clearly important, that has been put in train by the political establishment, people are going to express their views and those views will then be taken into account. That is what democracy and politics is about.

I think it would be impertinent for me to make judgments as to what the right answer to all that is, that is not something that someone who has only been to the Soviet Union once before in his life is best placed to do, it is one of the matters I will want to discuss with Mr Gorbachev, precisely how he sees these matters. But I think it would be most prudent and wise to discuss that with Mr Gorbachev and to see more of it myself before I start expressing opinions about it.

QUESTION (Alexander Pyoliparlov, Izvestya):

Now the Warsaw Treaty Organisation has ceases to exist, how do you appreciate the future of the European security system?


The Warsaw Treaty Organisation may not exist but the Soviet Union, which has always been overwhelmingly the dominant part of the Warsaw Pact, does exist. There has been a dramatically changed situation in terms of European security, I think that is undoubtedly true, and glasnost has had a great deal to do with that. The credit for that is two-sided, it is both with NATO and it is with the Soviet Union that that security situation is changed, it has been changed in a very beneficial way and we need to make sure that it stays changed in that beneficial way. And I think providing you have the continuing close contacts there have been between the President of the United States, the President of the Soviet Union and the other Western leaders then you are going to ensure that that is so. I do not believe there is any wish for conflict either side of the Urals, either in the Soviet Union or in the West, there is not any wish for conflict.

So the fact that the Warsaw Pact as an entity has ceased to exist does not seem to me to be the really material fact. The really material fact is the relationship that exists between the dominant part of the Warsaw Pact - the Soviet Union - and the principal Western powers and that is clearly very good. NATO certainly has no hostile intent, NATO does not commence wars, ever, and the Soviet Union historically has not commenced wars ever, one has seen that in Europe. So I think the prospects, even without the formality of the Warsaw Treaty, is very good for increased peace in Europe, that is what everybody wants, it is within our gift to ensure that it happens and those are the sort of things one wants to discuss with Mr Gorbachev on a regular basis.


How do you appreciate the efforts of the Soviet Union to solve the conflict in the area of the Gulf?


I think it was very helpfully meant and I think Mr Gorbachev was concerned about the conflict in the Gulf and wanted to see whether there was a diplomatic way out. I have no difficulties with the fact that he tried to do that, I think it was perfectly proper for him to try and do it. We were closer to it in some ways in that we were actually involved in the conflict and we did not think anything short of the Security Council resolutions was satisfactory and that is the position in the United Nations over the last couple of days that the Soviet Union have taken as well, they did so just yesterday, that all the Security Council resolutions have to be met. So there has been no conflict or ill feeling over this at all. The conversations between Mr Gorbachev and President Bush I know have been extremely friendly about this matter, they have been looking to see whether there is a way through, not disagreeing about what is happening. And equally my conversation with Mr Gorbachev on Saturday morning could not have been more friendly or constructive.

So I think it is perfectly proper for a great power like the Soviet Union to try to find a way through. Alas, the Iraqis provided no option for that, indeed while Tariq Aziz was saying one thing to Mr Gorbachev in Moscow, Saddam Hussein was making speeches saying something wholly different in Baghdad and I would think that Mr Gorbachev must be very frustrated about that. Even yesterday morning Saddam Hussein was making speeches saying Iraq still believes Kuwait is the 19th province of Iraq and quoting Arab proverbs suggesting that they would go back and attack Kuwait at some stage in the future. Now that wholly undercut any peace proposals, whether they had come from Mr Gorbachev or elsewhere and I suspect Mr Gorbachev is very frustrated about that and certainly there was a unity in the Security Council last evening that Iraq must meet all the Security Council resolutions. So I think it was a brave attempt but it was doomed to failure by the Iraqis themselves.

QUESTION (New Times Political Weekly):

Prime Minister, how would you describe the places and the roles of the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union in the development of the common European integration process?


The role of the Soviet Union, I think, is to continue with the policies of openness that they have begun to develop and to continue to move away from a command and towards a free-market economy. If you put it at its most basic level, it is extremely difficult to squabble politically and fight militarily with people with whom you are integrated on a trade basis day after day after day after day.

The greatest contribution to peace for the next century will be to open up the trade boundaries and have a proper trade flow between East and West Europe on a continuing basis. You get an integration of interests that cannot exist in any other way and I think the fact that the Soviet Union are moving in that direction is immensely heartwarming and immensely helpful for the future of all the generations yet to come.

The United Kingdom's role, I think, is to exercise its influence within the European Community and beyond it, to make sure that we do have that free market trading system, to make sure that the European Community does not close its borders to people beyond it, that it remains a free trading establishment - not a closed shop, and that it is open to other countries on the periphery to join it.

So you have on both sides of Greater Europe the flowering of the Soviet Union and the opening-up of trading possibilities in Western Europe and those will inevitably come together in terms of trade and self-interest and I think those are the respective roles that the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom must have.


Prime Minister, you used to be a banker and then you worked with the finances and you know that everything that underpins any policy and anything that exists is the economy, so one of the most important subjects of the conversations in Moscow, I think, will be the discussion of economic interrelations. How do you see what role the West can play in assisting perestroika economically, financially or maybe technologically or in any other way? How do you see these processes?


We can help but I must say to you I think we are peripheral and by "We" I do not just mean the United Kingdom, I mean all countries outside the Soviet Union are peripheral to this. The essential changes that have to take place have to take place within the Soviet Union.

If you look around the Soviet Union, there are some very skilled businessmen who run very large enterprises - I must say this is very much a view I hold both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. I think the Soviet Government would be very wise to bring in those businessmen and discuss with them how they can make their enterprises profitable; what they actually need to do; what changes they need in market structure and legislation that will actually mean they can manufacture goods that they can sell outside Eastern Europe, that they can sell to the West; how they need to open up their market to bring in technology; to discuss what help they need in exploiting the huge natural resources that the Soviet Union have got - apart from gold and diamonds, you have got gas and oil in vast profusion. It is in the interests of the Soviet Union to exploit that gas and oil; it needs, therefore, technology to do so.

It will strike a hard bargain for the availability of that technology and perhaps it is right to do so but that it is what it is going to have to do. It needs to do that so it has hard currency, so it can move to a situation at some stage in the future where the rouble is a convertible currency like the dollar, the deutschmark and the franc but it will not do that without engaging the market and moving towards it and I think it will be a lengthy business but it is inevitable. The tide of history is that it is inevitably going to happen if the success of the policies Mr. Gorbachev has set in train is ever to be brought fully to bear.

So it is not just for the politicians and the academics; you are going to have to seek the practical guidance of businessmen if you are actually going to bring it about and you have got a lot of them in the Soviet Union with a great deal of experience of running large enterprises. I think you should tap that experience and then find out what they believe needs to be done rather than just listen to external experts.

We will help. If people ask us what needs to be done, we will offer any advice we are asked for and I have no doubt that is true of the other Western countries as well for I think there is a will to make these changes in the Soviet union. I am not yet convinced there is an understanding about how to make these changes in the Soviet Union and I base that on discussions I have had with Soviet politicians - whom I will not name - from time to time over recent years who simply did not appreciate, for example, the importance of convertibility of the rouble in due course and matters of that sort. That will have to become understood.


Could we touch on domestic policies now?

Is there a certain motto or creed for the activities of your Government? What would you like to achieve and be remembered for?


Greater opportunities and wider opportunities, I think, if you want it in a crude slogan. Conservative Governments have changed a great deal of the things that happen in this country in the last ten years but there is still a long way to go.

We have opened up opportunities for lots of people who did not have them before but it cannot yet be said we have opened up opportunities for everybody who did not have them before and I think we have to do that and that will be the general drift.

Education will be a centre-piece, improving education and training will be a centre-piece of what we wish to do and there is still a considerable amount to be done to improve housing stock and owner occupation in this country. We want to move from a situation where people not only own houses, not only become property owners, but increasingly become capital owners, have their own savings, and the reason for that is not that we want to turn everybody into a little capitalist but if people really want freedom of choice and opportunity, they actually need some resources to enable them to exercise that freedom of choice and opportunity and that does mean savings. People who are in debt do not have the same freedom of choice as people who are not in debt and have some savings behind them, so we want to move in that direction because people then get an independence of action, an independence away from the Government - whether national government or local government or the taxman or the social security officer - in a way they cannot otherwise have, so we will seek to achieve that.


Prime Minister, questions of a more personal nature. How does it feel to be a Prime Minister? What changes have you [indistinct]?


In terms of the work-load, it is no heavier than being Chancellor of the Exchequer and probably less heavy than being Chief Secretary to the Treasury - that is the heaviest work-job in Government - so I never expect to work quite as hard again as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, or even to be as unpopular!

It does make a change in your lifestyle, a quite dramatic change. Because it is much higher profile than anything else in politics in this country, it very severely damages your personal privacy; the security that inevitably surrounds several figures in British politics - not just the Prime Minister but the Northern Ireland Secretary and others - is such that it does quite severe damage to your privacy and your family life; I think that is true and that is the biggest difficulty and the biggest change there has been.

The other difference, I think, with this job from most other jobs is the sheer variety of things that you have to cope with. Whereas as Chancellor you have an overall responsibility for the domestic economy and as Foreign Secretary you have - one may think at the moment mercifully! - no responsibility for the domestic economy but a whole world in which to fish around and play, as Prime Minister you switch from one to the other with amazing rapidity; indeed, that will be the case this morning, moving from foreign affairs to domestic affairs then back later on today to foreign affairs and that happens all the time. So it is a very varied diet; it is a pretty rich diet and it is very interesting. It is hard work but it is interesting.

The two prices you pay are the change to your private life and privacy and secondly, the fact that you are invariably going to read an awful lot about yourself with which you do not agree and often see a lot of expressions and opinions expressed with confidence as being your own when you know they are not, but that is a minor frustration.


Mr. Prime Minister, speaking about your emphasis on the social issues, in one of your first interviews, speaking about the reshaping of British society you used the term "classless society" which actually caused some confusion. Could you elaborate what you meant by that?


I can! I really had in mind a society where anybody, from whatever background they come, can achieve the maximum that they personally are capable of; to sweep away the barriers where certain jobs only go to people because they have come from a particular background; to sweep away the sort of patronising attitude that some people have that they are intrinsically better than others because of their background in some form or another.

I find that offensive. I think it is outdated and I think you should sweep it away. I did not mean a grey uniformity. There is a vivid tapestry of opinion out there, as you will all know, and people have different abilities, different concerns. I would not want to remove any of the colour from the British structure of life but I do want to remove the fact that some people get better opportunities than others because of what they are and where they come from.

That frankly to me does not seem fair and we have got to make sure that the same opportunities are available to someone from a back-to-back house in a rundown area as are available to someone in a splendid house in Marylebone and that is what I meant by a classless society, a society that will still honour people.

I am not suggesting that we abolish the class system. What I actually want to make clear is that someone can get to the House of Lords, for example, on their abilities as much if they start from a property slum somewhere as if they start from a Belgravia mansion. That is what I mean by a classless society.


A question of a very personal nature: what are your hobbies? I am not mentioning cricket! [Laughter]


Not mentioning cricket! That is like saying: "How do you walk, not mentioning legs?" [Laughter]

I read a lot. Even now, whenever I go to bed, whatever time it is, whenever I put down my boxes, even perhaps at two o'clock in the morning I will read, so I suppose reading is a very real hobby.

It is not only cricket I love; I will go and watch football or rugby or almost any sort of sport. That, I suppose, and reading are my principal hobbies. I would like to say walking was a hobby and it used to be but I damaged my legs very badly in a motor car accident in Nigeria and I can only walk about a mile now without my knee swelling like a balloon, so that is really out.

Those are really the only hobbies I have time for now, but given recreation, I love the theatre, particularly the live theatre - I prefer the live theatre to the cinema. I come from a family that spent a lot of time on the stage in the past and indeed, they will fully understand my present career! [Laughter] So I love the live stage and I am very fond of music, most forms of music. I am not too great on jazz; to tell you the truth, I don't really understand that and that often seems just a cacophony of noise to me but most other music I love. So the live theatre, music, reading and cricket.